War

Sunday, April 13, 2003
@ Ruta Maya | 9:52 PM

I honestly can’t wait to get out of my current Turn-of-the-Nineteenth-Century/Early Modern Novel literature class — not because I don’t like the books; I’ve enjoyed reading things I wouldn’t normally read — but because there are so many new books out that I’d like to read. Or classics I’d like to read or reread. And I don’t want to be on a reading schedule. I don’t want to read a book in a night — as I’ve done twice this semester — because I put off reading the novel until the day before our first quiz on it. The class has made me a bit more attentive in my reading, though I’m nowhere near being a very good critic or highly observant reader. I still read to learn — indeed, many of the books I’d like to read are nonfiction — but when reading fiction I don’t usually look for unreliable narrators or other authorial tricks. I think I can also honestly say, though, that if taking this literature class were my only connection with books — that is, if I weren’t already a voracious reader — I’d probably never desire to read again. I think this may just be the nature of upper-level literature classes (though I’ve only taken this one and can’t really say for sure). Just as many of the writing classes I’ve been in have made me thankful that I enjoy writing without supervision, this class has increased my belief that those things that people truly enjoy doing require no enforced structure beyond the self and its unquenchable desire.

In general, though, college isn’t like that for me. While I hesitate to say one can’t acquire the same education on one’s own, universities do provide a person with a bounty of resources, guidance and opportunities. Much like I said about my philosophy class last semester, college is a venue for intellectual masturbation. And I am a proponent of masturbation of all kinds. While the work may at times become tiring and appear endless, one’s education always extends beyond four walls. Many people complain that schoolwork isn’t like regular work because you don’t leave it behind when you exit the campus grounds at the end of the day, but education — or anything a person loves — is always an ongoing process. That’s a good thing.

In keeping with my above discussion of novels, I will admit that I’ve shoved a few books into my reading schedule recently that aren’t on my course reading list. I read the majority of the short stories in John Fante’s Big Hunger. They were quite good and would definitely serve as a good introduction to his work. A few of them are quite touching.

I then moved on to Anthony Swofford’s new Gulf War memoir, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles. This book received probably the most timely release ever just weeks before the new Gulf War started. I’ve since seen Swofford’s commentaries all over the place: I know I saw one in The Guardian out of London and probably at least one piece in The New York Times Book Review. In Jarhead, he gives an interesting, funny and heartfelt account of his experiences in the U.S. Marines and in combat. He doesn’t appear to pull many punches and, while I won’t say the book is on the same level as Michael Herr’s Vietnam-era reporting in Dispatches, I will say that Swofford gives one of the best accounts of grunt-level field reporting from a modern conflict that I’ve read so far — and that includes all the reports from journalists embedded (in bed) with combat units in the current conflict. To give you a taste, here’s a few brief passages from toward the end of the book:

     These men spread what they call good news, the good news about war and warriors. Some of the men who spread good news have never fought — so what could they have to say about the purity of war and warriors? These men are liars and cheats and they gamble with your freedom and your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the reputation of your country.

I have gone to war and now I can issue my complaint. I can sit on my porch and complain all day. And you must listen. Some of you will say: You signed the contract, you crying bitch, and you fought in a war because of your signature, no one held a gun to your head. This is true, but because I signed the contract and fulfilled my obligation to fight one of America’s wars, I am entitled to speak, to say, I belonged to a fucked situation.
I am entitled to despair over the likelihood of further atrocities. Indolence and cowardice do not drive me — despair drives me. I remade my war one word at a time, a foolish, desperate act. When I despair, I am alone, and I am often alone. In crowded rooms and walking the streets of our cities, I am alone and full of despair, and while sitting and writing, I am alone and full of despair — the same despair that impelled me to write this book, a quiet scream from within a buried coffin. Dead, dead, my scream.
What did I hope to gain? More bombs are coming. Dig your hole with the hands God gave you.

Some wars are unavoidable and need well be fought, but this doesn’t erase warfare’s waste. Sorry, we must say to the mothers whose sons will die horribly. This will never end. Sorry.

Now I often think of the first time I received artillery fire, and the subsequent obliteration of the enemy observation post. I’ll never know how many men manned the OP, but in memory I fix the number at two, and though at the time I was angry that the pompous captain took the handset from me and stole my kills, I have lately been thankful that he insisted on calling the fire mission, and sometimes when I am feeling hopeful or even religious, I think that by taking my two kills the pompous captain handed me life, some extra moments of living for myself or that I can offer others, though I have no idea how to use or disburse these extra moments, or if I’ve wasted them already.

In closing, I’d just like to say that I wish Jodie Foster had been killed in Taxi Driver and never been able to make Panic Room.

I know. After the Swofford quotations, what an immature way to end an entry.

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